Everything You Need to Know About Multiple Myeloma

Everything You Need to Know About Multiple Myeloma

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After non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer diagnosis in the U.S. This year, 32,270 people in the United States will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and 12,380 people will die from it. The 5-year survival rate of this cancer is 54%, but it is 74% for people diagnosed at an early stage. Therefore, earlier diagnosis and treatment can improve chances of survival.

What Is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer affecting plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cell found in the bone marrow and some other tissues and organs. Plasma cells make antibodies to help your body combat diseases and infections. These cells sometimes change and behave/grow abnormally, leading to multiple myeloma or a precancerous condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). A precancerous condition is not cancer, but there is a higher chance that this can develop into cancer.

Multiple myeloma occurs due to an accumulation of abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) in the bone marrow, making it difficult for other blood cells to develop and function normally. Furthermore, myeloma cells can:

  • Cause fatigue and anemia due to fewer red blood cells
  • Cause mineral imbalance
  • Produce a substance that causes bone damage and high blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia). This, in turn, can cause create kidney stones and interfere with heart and brain function.
  • Make abnormal proteins that affect other organs, such as the kidneys.
  • Form tumors in bones (plasmacytomas)

A single tumor in a bone is called a solitary plasmacytoma, whereas if several plasmacytomas are present in the bones, the condition is known as multiple myeloma. Extramedullary plasmacytomas are plasmacytomas that have formed outside of the bones.

Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

Common symptoms of multiple myeloma are:

  • Weakness
  • Bruising
  • Bone pain
  • Weight loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Fractures
  • Exhaustion
  • Anemia
  • Bleeding
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence
  • Frequent infections

Symptoms of hypercalcemia, or high levels in calcium, resulting from multiple myeloma are:

  • Frequent urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Confusion or trouble thinking
  • Feeling very tired

Diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma

Your doctor may perform these tests to diagnose multiple myeloma:

  1. Urine and Blood Tests

    Your blood and urine samples are analyzed for M proteins or Bence Jones proteins (when detected in urine) produced by myeloma cells, namely monoclonal immunoglobulin and beta-2-microglobulin, to determine the extent of the disease. A blood test is also used to examine your kidney function, blood cell counts, and calcium level.

  2. X-Ray

    An X-ray provides a clear picture of the skeletal system to check the presence of myeloma cells in bones. However, X-rays may not find cancer as early as other tests.

  3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

    An MRI provides detailed images of the body to determine whether the bone marrow is replaced by myeloma cells or plasma cell tumors in the pelvis, skull, and spine. It is also used to measure the tumor’s size if present.

  4. Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

    A CT scan utilizes computers and X-rays from different angles to provide a detailed, cross-sectional view of the body to detect any abnormalities or tumors in the bone marrow.

  5. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

    Combined with a CT scan, a PET scan provides pictures of tissues and organs inside the body to detect any abnormal cells.

  6. Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy

    These similar procedures are often performed at the same time. A bone marrow sample is removed and then tested in the lab to check whether myeloma cells are present. Specialized tests, such as cytogenetics and fluorescent in situ hybridization, are used to detect genetic mutations in the cells.

  7. Molecular Testing of the Tumor

    Your doctor may perform lab tests on your tumor or bone marrow sample to identify specific chromosomes, proteins, genes, and other tumor-diagnosing factors.

Multiple Myeloma FAQs

  • Is Multiple Myeloma a Bone Marrow Cancer?

    Yes, multiple myeloma is a type of bone marrow cancer in which plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and then develop tumors in bones.

  • Is Multiple Myeloma Cancer Curable?

    This cancer can be successfully managed by treating its symptoms and controlling its growth and spread.

  • Can You Live a Normal Life with Myeloma?

    If detected earlier, your doctor can create a customized treatment plan that eliminates symptoms, controls tumor growth and pain, and destroys myeloma cells, helping you live a normal life.

Contact Chesapeake Oncology Hematology Associates today if you need to confirm a multiple myeloma diagnosis or have any questions concerning the condition.



COHA is a leading group of oncologists that offer oncology services within Anne Arundel County, Howard County, and Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. We remain committed to bringing the best oncology and hematology services to the residents of this area. Our knowledge, skills, and experience will guide you toward the best treatment options for your health and lifestyle. We offer today’s most effective therapies, expertly and compassionately delivered in our infusion and medical centers.

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